If you didn’t know
that Mitt Romney was the likely Republican presidential nominee, you wouldn’t
figure it out listening to the speeches at tonight’s Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner.
Speaker after speaker, including the keynote Attorney
General Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia, avoided mentioning the name of a single
Republican presidential candidate.
I don’t know about you, but that seemed weird to me. It was as if the GOP caucus race was just
starting, and everyone was worried about neutrality.
It might have had something to do with the fact that Texas
Congressman Ron Paul’s shadow is still looming large in Iowa. Today’s
nomination of a delegate slate to the national convention, heavy with Paul
supporters, is just the latest example of why the party is reluctant to act
like the primary season is effectively over.
Cuccinelli hasn’t endorsed a presidential candidate, but he
told me in an interview (link below) that he accepts that Romney will be the nominee. He’ll
even campaign for him, if he’s asked. He
says that without any indication that he thinks he’ll be asked sometime soon.
The first mention of Romney from the podium tonight came at
the very end, when Iowa GOP co-chairman Bill Schickel introduced a short video
message from Romney and his wife, Ann. Mostly Ann, actually.
The Romney campaign also had a table in the vestibule
outside the ballroom, where there was a reception.
Cuccinelli did make a point of pressing for Republicans to
work to defeat President Obama. “The
rule of law itself is at stake in this election,” he said. He called the 2012
presidential race “the year to leave it all on the field” in Iowa and Virginia,
also a swing state.
Still, the size of the crowd here (not quite 270), the
fairly muted enthusiasm and the tenor of the speeches suggests Iowa Republicans
are not yet focused on a Romney-Obama contest in the general election.